Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cheaha State Park: Bald Rock (Blog Hike #417)

Trails: Doug Ghee Accessible and CCC Trails
Hike Location: Cheaha State Park
Geographic Location: south of OxfordAL (33.49201, -85.81066)
Length: 0.5 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: March 2013
Overview: An easy walk to fantastic views from Bald Rock.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: In eastern Alabama, take I-20 to US 431 (exit 191).  Exit and go south on US 431.  Take US 431 to SR 281 (Talladega Scenic Byway).  Turn right on the SR 281 access road, then turn left on SR 281 itself.  Take SR 281 south 11 miles to the signed Cheaha State Park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, pay the small entrance fee, and begin driving the hilly one-way park loop road.  About half way around the loop, turn right at the sign for Bald Rock.  Veer left of Bald Rock Lodge and park in the trailhead parking lot.

The hike: Perched on the roof of AlabamaCheaha State Park consists of 2799 acres on the top of Cheaha Mountain.  Fittingly the name Cheaha comes from the Creek Indian name for this place “Chaha,” which translates to “high place.”  As the name suggests, at 2407 feet above sea level, the summit of Cheaha Mountain is the highest point in Alabama.
The Creek may have been the first to recognize the significance of this mountain, but they were hardly the last.  Like half of Alabama’s state parks, Cheaha State Park was formed in 1933 when the State of Alabama acquired this land.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived that same year and began work on many of the park facilities still used today.  In particular, Bald Rock Lodge, the Bunker Observation Tower built directly on the summit, and the park’s stone cottages are all works of the CCC.  The park also features a motel and a restaurant built in 1973.
For hikers, the park’s most famous trails actually lie just outside the park in the surrounding Talladega National Forest.  Within the park lie several short trails, including the Lake Trail, which leads 1 very steep mile from the mountain summit to Cheaha Lake, the Pulpit Rock Trail, a 0.5 mile trail leading to an unusual rock formation, the 0.25 mile Rock Garden Trail, and the short trail system at Bald Rock.  Bald Rock is the easiest overlook in the park to access, and it is the overlook that gives the park’s best views.
Boardwalk trailhead
            At the rear of the parking area, pick up the Doug Ghee Accessible Trail, a 3000-foot boardwalk that provides a handicapped-accessible route to the overlook at Bald Rock.  As you walk out the elevated boardwalk, you will notice a trail on the forest floor on either side of the boardwalk.  The faint trail on the left is the CCC Trail, and the wider trail on the right is the Pinhoti Trail connector.  All three of these trails lead to Bald Rock, so you can pick whichever two you prefer to hike out and back.
Steps leading off the boardwalk
            For the outbound trip, I stuck with the boardwalk.  The well-constructed wooden boardwalk with tall railings makes the going very easy. Interpretive signs along the trail tell of the plants and animals of the area as well as the area’s geological history.
At 0.3 miles, you reach the overlook and a world class view.  Standing atop the quartzite rock, you can see more than 20 miles to the north.  Anniston and Oxford appear as small settlements in the distance, and cars on I-20 creep along as tiny dots.  The low pine-covered foothills in the foreground take center stage, and stunted Virginia pines on the rocky summit frame the view.
Bald Rock

View north from Bald Rock
            To get back to the parking area, I chose to use the CCC Trail.  The CCC Trail is accessed by taking the first set of steps off the boardwalk down to the right.  The CCC Trail is hard to discern at first, but it roughly parallels the boardwalk, which is now above you and to your left.  The shiny but lumpy quartzite makes the going more challenging compared to the boardwalk, but the unusual rock formations make the trek more interesting. 
Unusual quartzite formation
            At 0.5 miles, you reach the steps leading back up to the boardwalk just before returning to the trailhead to complete the hike.  Before leaving, be sure to take in some of the other facilities the park has to offer.  My mother and I had a memorable dinner in the park’s restaurant, which features large picture windows with fantastic views to the west.  Whichever activities you choose, enjoy your visit to the roof of Alabama.

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